EDINBURGH — The Gupta brothers have been exposed as sex pests, in the latest revelations flowing out of the #GuptaLeaks emails. That won’t come as a surprise to many people as high office in corporations and governments often goes hand-in-hand with rape and other sexual crimes. This is because these deeds aren’t just about sexual urges – they are about demonstrations of power, about showing who is boss and taking full advantage of that status. However, this behaviour is unacceptable legally and socially, with the sordid details underscoring the dirty nature of the family that has thrown its net over South Africa’s politicians and state-owned enterprises, corrupting captains of industry and others along the way. – Jackie Cameron
The Gupta brothers – Tony, Ajay and Atul – have been painted as sex pests, using their status as rich, powerful business bosses to terrify women employees and bully them into submission.
Drinks appear to have been spiked and an attempt was made to hold a woman against her will as Tony Gupta tried to force his way on one new employee. One woman has told how employees were expected to sleep in the same room as Tony Gupta and “massage” him.
This seedy, sordid picture of the Gupta brothers emerged as journalists at #amaBhungane published their latest findings of analysis of a rich treasure trove of emails leaked from the heart of the Gupta business empire.
The #GuptaLeaks is the biggest leak of emails from a South African business operation. The Gupta family has been linked to corruption across South African state-owned enterprises and government and is associated with President Jacob Zuma, employing his son Duduzane Zuma to help oil the wheels of their operation.
Evidence has been pouring out into the public domain firming up allegations of state capture, fraud, personal enrichment at the expense of taxpayers.
But, so far, South Africa’s law-enforcement agencies haven’t made a move on any of the big fish implicated in the scandal. This is partly because these agencies are believed to have been ‘captured’ – but also because they claim they don’t have first-hand access to the email evidence which is in the hands of journalists and this is necessary to pursue charges.
In addition to being accused of sexual harassment, evidence has emerged that the Gupta family is racist – insisting on white waiting staff at a controversial wedding and favouring white employees. This is ironic, as the Gupta family has generated its riches on the strength of black economic empowerment credentials and by riding the preferential state procurement policies aimed at black business owners.
“It was the worst 24 hours of my life” is how a former personal assistant to Tony Gupta describes her time working for him. She fled in fear, reports amaBhungane, after it seemed evident she was about to become the victim in a sexual attack.
“Christine said that on the first – and only – day of working for Tony Gupta, she was required to accompany him from Johannesburg on what would be an overnight business trip to Cape Town,” recounts amaBhungane.
“On the Guptas’ private jet, Tony Gupta did not speak to her at all. Upon arrival at a house in Cape Town, she was offered a Coke to drink and told that she was not allowed to use her cellphone at any time.
“He told me that all his PAs are expected to give him massages and sleep in the same bed as him…I told him I was not comfortable with that and would prefer my own bed and bathroom. He then asked me to give him a massage. I declined,” Christine told amaBhungane.
The amaBhungane team has highlighted the following:
- Sexual harassment by at least two of the Gupta brothers of their female personal assistants has been alleged by three former employees – with cash pay-outs and the threat of unemployment allegedly used to silence the women in question;
- While Tony Gupta had a meeting in another part of the house, he allegedly proceeded to lock Christine in the bedroom. By now thoroughly frightened – and unable to shake the suspicion that her drinks might have been spiked with something – Christine used her cellphone to call her husband and tell him what was happening.
- “[Tony Gupta] walked in and asked me what I was doing. He told me I wasn’t allowed to be on the phone.” Desperately seeking an excuse to leave, Christine told him that her grandmother had unexpectedly died. “He put his arms around me and said ‘You’re not going’,” the former employee told amaBhungane.
- The two were interrupted by the woman with whom Tony Gupta had conducted his earlier meeting, which is what Christine credits with the fact that she was eventually permitted to leave. “I ran out of the gate so fast I left three items in the house, including a cellphone charger,” she says. “I actually hid in a bush waiting for [a relative] to come fetch me.”
- When she was safely away, Christine immediately emailed her resignation to Sahara CEO Ashu Chawla. The email is part of the #GuptaLeaks trove, and it reads: “I, [Name], [ID number], hereby hand in my resignation letter with immediate effect under the circumstances of Sexual Harassment”.
- Christine’s husband subsequently confronted Chawla and the Guptas about what had happened. “They accused me of dancing provocatively,” says Christine, “which I did not.” Her husband was given R10 000 in cash “to go away”.
- Another former PA contacted by Scorpio, who was in the Guptas’ employ for a short period, claimed that stories of this nature were common. On several occasions, she suggested, the Guptas may have made cash pay-outs to prevent the stories from becoming public.
- A third former female employee, who worked for the Guptas for several years, told the journalists: “All three [Gupta] brothers tried their luck with me.” “I kept this information to myself in fear of losing my job, which I really needed back then.”
- “But now that I think of it I was given ‘gifts’ to keep me quiet. After every [inappropriate] incident, I would get a small ‘payback’ for all my hard work.”
- Ajay Gupta would “force himself on me and kiss me multiple times”, she said. “I eventually just let it happen to make sure I didn’t lose my job. He would put my hand down his pants.” This woman was also allegedly asked to “entertain” high profile guest.
- In 2011, a court case against Sahara Computers was brought by a female employee whose name is known to Scorpio, who alleged that a male employee subjected her to persistent sexual harassment. In court papers, she claimed that Sahara failed to create a safe workplace environment. The judge agreed, finding that Sahara “delayed overly in taking action”, and awarded the plaintiff R60 000 and costs.
- An appeal by Sahara failed, and in 2014 Gary Naidoo – managing editor of The New Age newspaper and frequent Gupta family spokesperson – emailed Atul Gupta: “I think we should just settle [the case] as I am not confident because the last two attempts proved unsuccessful and we should try to minimize negative publicity around this case.”
There is no record within the email trove of Atul Gupta’s response, notes amaBhungane.
Gupta lawyer Gert van der Merwe referred a request for comment on these allegations to Gary Naidoo, who provided an email address for Oakbay’s corporate communications unit, which did not yield a response, said the investigative journalists.
For more on the #GuptaLeaks, see:
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